Magic gave dedicated fan Mike Janeczek a sweet farewell

Last words Janeczek heard was radio call of Orlando beating Lakers

Mike Janeczek lived and died with the Magic.

Faithfully and fervently. Passionately and paternally.

And literally.

A great dad. A great husband. A great fan.

He worked at Disney and scraped and saved enough money to buy season tickets for his family — wife, Kathy; son, Mike; and daughter, Karen — during that inaugural Magic season 23 years ago. The Janeczeks sat in the cheap seats, but they didn't care. They were happy because they were together. They were always together.

"I can't even remember ever having a babysitter when I was growing up," Karen says. "Whatever we did, we did as a family."

And the Magic were a part of that family. Little Mike was in middle school and grew from a teen-ager to a grown man in the old Amway Arena. Karen was just 6 during that first season, and originally Dad didn't buy her a season ticket. He thought she'd be bored and the ticket would be a waste of money. But after he took her to one game, she was hooked.

"He bought me my own ticket by the end of that first season," Karen remembers. "And I was so proud."

She's 30 now, and the Magic memories tearfully come flooding back in the wake of her father's death a few days ago. The memories are not about what happened on the court but about just spending time with her dad at the games and watching him express his love and loyalty for his family, his team and his town.

In 23 years, he missed only eight home games and that was usually when he couldn't get off work in time. It seemed nobody at the arena was a stranger to Mike. He was on a first-name basis with the fans around him, the ushers, the concessionaires, the security officers.

When the Magic were on the road, he'd watch on TV and would even stay up till 1 in the morning for the West Coast games. Back in the day, he loved Nick Anderson and Darrell Armstrong because they were so loyal. For the same reason, Jameer and J.J. were his two favorite players on this year's team.

So many fans today give up on their teams through the tough times. Mike was different. He came from the old school where you rooted for your team through thick and the thin — not just through thick. What do you expect from a guy who grew up cheering for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who he continued to support even though they've had 20 consecutive losing seasons.

"He was always a positive fan," his son Mike says. "He never got angry and ripped his teams."

Sure, he was disappointed when Shaq left and even more disappointed when Dwight left. He didn't appreciate how Dwight disingenuously talked about loyalty at a news conference in March and then bolted at the first opportunity a couple of months later.

"I wish professional athletes like Dwight understood what they mean to fans like us," Karen says. "They aren't just players who put a ball through a hoop. They become a part of who we are. We relate to them, become close to them and establish a bond with them. It may seem like just a game or a business to them, but to us it's much more than that. At least my father always thought so."

That's why Mike Janeczek requested a radio when he went to the hospital several days ago. He had been experiencing some mysterious back pain, and his doctors wanted to run a battery of tests on him. But the hospital didn't have Fox Sports on their TV and Mike couldn't watch the Magic take on Dwight and the Lakers last Sunday. That's why he requested the radio — and not just any radio. He wanted a battery-powered radio so he could put it up to his ear and hear it real clear.

He was already in a good mood that day because his 11-year-old grandson, Brighton, had pitched a perfect game for his Little League baseball team and announced that his grandpa was getting the game ball. The Magic game that night was the piece de résistance.

He listened to the entire game and was no doubt cheering from his hospital bed as the Magic upset the Lakers 113-103. The last words Mike ever heard was the call of Magic radio voice Dennis Neumann and his partner Richie Adubato:

"Jameer dribbles out the clock and the Magic win in L.A. as they knock off Dwight Howard's new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, with a flurry in the fourth quarter! Orlando wins by double digits, Richie!"

"I will guarantee you, my dad had a smile on his face from ear to ear," his son Mike says.

After the win over the Lakers, Jameer said, "This victory means a lot for the fans in Orlando."

Fans like Mike, who died a happy man that night.

Shortly after the Magic-Lakers game ended, a blood vessel in his brain burst and Mike went into a coma he never woke up from.

He passed away a short time later.

He was 68.

A great father, a great husband and a great fan is gone.

Appropriately, when he is laid to rest on Monday, he'll be wearing a Magic neck tie.

Mike Janeczek literally lived — and died — with his team.

Blue and White.

Good night.

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

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